GM Canola

The recent announcement that the production of genetically modifed canola will be permitted suggests that the long controversy over the GM issue is drawing to a close, with a reasonable chance of an outcome that should be satisfactory to most.

GM foods can be produced and sold in Australia, but, in general, must be labelled as such. Producers and consumers can decide to avoid GM if they want to, but those who are willing to embrace GM will not be prevented from doing so. There’s a problem here in relation to canola, since it’s mostly processed into oil for use in margarine and other products and this isn’t covered by the current labelling requirements – this should be fixed.

The policy decision reflects a pretty clear scientific consensus that the products in question are safe to consume, and also a long period of experimental work with genetic modification. With a few exceptions (notably those driven by Monsanto in the US), this work has been carried out with admirable caution, beginning with the Asilomar conference in 1975, which may be seen as the first application of the precautionary principle. Given the experience of the past thirty years, and the scientific understanding that has developed over that time, it seems pretty clear that any risks associated with GM are modest and manageable, not the potential catastrophes that worried the participants at Asilomar.

The outcome of the GM policy process has been criticised from two directions. Supporters of a continued ban have made various arguments, but two deserve particular attention. First, there are claims about health risks. The problem for this argument is that rigorous scientific assessment hasn’t found any convincing evidence of serious risks. Perhaps, as this article claims, there are allergy problems associated with some products. But, as the article itself predicts, if so, consumers will reject those products and producers will go out of business.

Second, there’s the possibility of cross-contamination of non-GM crops by GM neighbours, which would remove the option, for producers and consumers, of avoiding GM. It appears that the systems in place to prevent this, while not infallible, are pretty good. As with all kinds of products of the modern world, from pesticides to electromagnetic waves, it’s probably impossible for anyone to avoid GM food completely. But most people averse to consuming GM foods (for whatever reason) will be satisfied with 99 per cent, and those who aren’t can’t expect to impose their preferences on the rest of us.

On the other side is the position, that, in the absence of proof of harm, there should be no requirement for labelling. This view was pushed successfully by Monsanto in the US, but the end result was to increase public distrust and slow the acceptance of the process. Those who are now complaining about the time it’s taken to allow production in Australia should know where to point the finger.

Finally, it’s worth comparing this debate with that over climate change. There’s a superficial symmetry in the sense that GM is an issue where lots of environmentalists are opposed to the consensus view of mainstream science. But the debate has been conducted sensibly and there’s been nothing like the vitriolic politicisation we’ve seen over climate change (except in contributions from rightwing culture warriors trying to cover their own anti-science position with tu quoque slurs) Moreover, while Green parties have maintained an anti-GM position, the socialist/social democratic/labour left has generally followed the science, in sharp contrast with the embrace of delusionism by the US Republicans and their followers.

90 thoughts on “GM Canola

  1. About time.

    As for your last point, I disagree. With Prince Charles lending his royal ignorance to any anti-GM movement and campaigners running scare campaigns about “frankenfoods” I haven’t exactly seen reason and light replacing sound and fury.

    However, one difference is that the boot is on the other foot. This time, it’s the anti-delusionists who are the rich corporates.

    Green movements that object to fewer pesticides, greater yield and higher nutritional content in products are conflicted to say the very least. They are also prepared to run the ‘no action until proven safe beyond any possible doubt’ argument here, while taking the ‘balance of scientific opinion’ stance in relation to AGW.

  2. LABELLING ISSUES

    Nice post John. The labelling issue troubles me though. If GM really is safe (or, at least, no less safe than most other things) as the science says, then why should consumers who don’t buy the green scare campaign have to bear the labelling costs (assuming, reasonably, a pass on of these costs into the price). Why not allow “GM-free” as a labelling option for those producers who think sufficient customers will value that information sufficiently to justify the labelling costs on their products?

  3. You might be right about the anti-GM argument. It’s not something I’ve followed terribly closely. But I did have the impression that it was more about (a) loss of diversity through contamination and (b) putting more control into the hands of corporations rather than farmers. These appear to be problems of the industrialisation of agriculture rather than of GM per se. But it does seem to be another nail in the coffin of counter-culture/traditional farming technologies.

  4. Tom, on labelling: the consumer shouldn’t have to justify their reasoning for their choices to corporations. I might want to buy non-GM products because I don’t want to my money to end up with Monsanto and similar. Or I might want to ensure that products *do* contain GM, on the grounds that they reduce pesticide use.

    By making safety the determinant of whether or not labelling is necessary, you’re prejudging what consumers have a right to consider. I’d put the onus on those who want to enter the food market to tell consumers exactly what they are selling. Consumers can than choose what they want to buy on any basis they please, regardless of whether or not corporations (or any other gatekeepers) consider those grounds rational.

  5. John you’ve concentrated on the arguments relating to the safety of GM foods for consumption but as melanie suggests, there are important production issues as well. Too many to list here and I’m no expert anyway, but they can be summarised in two main points I think:

    (1) Loss of diversity will cause unanticipated consequences (e.g. a single, currently-unknown vulnerability to a disease could wipe out the entire crop as happened with the Irish potato blight). There is simply insufficient data to make an informed decision.

    (2) To the extent that safe use of GM crops depends on humans observing prescribed procedures, there will inevitably be breaches. To illustrate the point, look no further than the recent equine flu outbreak.

    This is not necessarily to argue that GM crops should be banned, but the issues are more complex than whether they are safe to eat.

  6. The GM/GW connection is that we rely heavily on Brassica family plants (canola, cabbage etc) which are under attack from not only humidity loving insects but lack of liquid water and expensive fertiliser. Thus something like the Irish Potato Famine could re-occur but for this family of plants. Unfortunately cross pollination may mean that weeds like wild mustard won’t respond to insect bio-control or mild herbicides. People will suffer discomfort regardless of food choice. So it’s yet possible this could turn out to be a huge mistake.

    I think as a result of litigation agriculture may tend to split into very hardy outdoor non-GM crops (eg barley) and indoor hydroponics, with commensurate changes to diet.

  7. I’d like a label on all packaged food products that tells me how much government subsidies went into the production process. I don’t want to support products that increase taxation. 😉

  8. My issue with GM is unrelated to safety. I object to corporations claiming plant genomes as their intellectual property. It leads to situations where companies no longer sell seeds, but sell licenses to grow seeds for a single year – if you plant the seeds but don’t renew your license, you’re in breach of their copyright. I’ve got nothing against GM as long as it’s open-source GM.

  9. I agree, ChrisB, that consumers should not have to justify their preferences to corporations. However, the basis for (some) consumers wanting particular information is highly relevant to the actual issue I raised in response to John’s post: ie, whether governments should regulate to require corporations to supply that information. Information and its provision are not costless; in this case, imposing GM labelling requirements would impose costs (passed on in the form of higher prices) on all consumers, but would only benefit those consumers who cared about whether the products they are consuming contain GM ingredients. Thus, this is not a “consumer vs evil corporations” issue: it is a “consumer vs consumer” issue. Accordingly, the real (rather than imagined) value of the information is very important in determining whether its disclosure should be made mandatory.

  10. Very nice post. Raises a lot of questions.

    I am edgy about GM foods, but not opposed to them on principle. I would be opposed to a blanket-approval of GM foods in general, especially without strict labelling, and I think a case-by-case approach is necessary.

    First, I don’t think the labelling costs would be significant enough to affect product prices at all. And, if GM increases yield significantly, we should see an overall cost decrease. If the financial cost of responsible labelling was so significant as to risk the profitability of the industry, then the industry is not viable and shouldn’t go ahead. Labelling is essential, from a social responsibility standpoint, even if just for peace of mind.

    A major problem lies in the assumption that GM foods necessarily mean “fewer pesticides, greater yield and higher nutritional content in products” as ‘2 tanners’ suggested above. In many cases, (eg. Roundup Ready Crops) GM means that plant crops are able to withstand harsher pesticides or greater doses than they ordinarily would. ‘Greater yield’ through faster-growing crops can simply mean, for example, larger fruits with a greater water content, effectively reducing the ‘nutrient density’ or quality of the food. ‘Greater nutrient content’ also means that fertiliser use must be increased dramatically to provide those soil nutrients. GM foods may also allow crops to be produced in settings that would not have been previously possible. (For example higher temperatures and lower water conditions brought about by climate change, or for temperate crops to shift to tropical regions etc…) This should raise the question of whether we think this is A Good Thing, or does it provide an excuse for farmers to mis-manage their current agricultural systems and over-exploit the resources in agriculturally-inappropriate locations?

    Farmers and consumers need to have full information about the effects and science of each crop that they would consider using or buying.

    There is also a problem in the assumption that GM foods are ‘generally’ nutritionally safe, when the science would analyse the ‘specific’ safety, crop-by-crop.

    Safety and nutrition varies greatly between crops, and also within the same crop when considering different types of genetic modification. When you are messing with biology, literally creating new DNA and thus new forms of life, you must continue to be rigourous and test the safety of EVERY modification.

    And we haven’t even begun to discuss the legal effects of crop-contamination, or the economic/ethical effects of ‘terminator genes’ in a developing world context.

  11. This pice by John has got to be one of the most misinformed of any academic….
    I suggest you look thru http://www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=1&page=1
    Which will show you a list of the sort of persons and companies pushing GM…a shady bunch.

    Or read Jeffrey Smiths new article:
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/eating-gm-foods-is-a-health-risk/2007/11/27/1196036889507.html

    or:
    Farmers and scientists unite to decry increased entry of GMOs!
    etc
    http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8495

    You seem to treatt Monsanto as a small player, and not a major public menace, which has already taekne farmers to court onto whose farm their seeds blow….
    http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

    1. ‘The problem for this argument is that rigorous scientific assessment hasn’t found any convincing evidence of serious risks. Perhaps, as this article claims, there are allergy problems associated with some products. But, as the article itself predicts, if so, consumers will reject those products and producers will go out of business.’

    What rigrous scientific assessment? You mean by scientists funded by Monsanto and other industries? Have you even assessed these studies?
    Why do you suppose the EU has banned GM??? It wouldnt if the ‘rigorous scientific assessments’ said GM was safe…
    In fact lots of rigorous studies show it is UNSAFE.
    Or have you forgotten the Showa Denko Tryptophan disaster:
    http://todayyesterdayandtomorrow.wordpress.com/2007/06/09/gm-tryptophan-ems-killed-37-and-permanently-disabled-1500-people/

    When will they reject the product? After they find they find they are now allergic? How will they get rid of the GM INSIDE their bodies?
    You actually admit its ok to knowingly let loose an allergen onto the public! Thats amazing! Its also criminal

    More later…

  12. “When you are messing with biology, literally creating new DNA and thus new forms of life, you must continue to be rigourous and test the safety of EVERY modification.”
    LOL – on this criterion the only crops we’d be growing are einkorn wheat and primitive barleys.

    The trouble with the “don’t allow it unless its proven to do no harm” line is that it’s very hard to prove a negative. Rather than interpreting the precautionary principle as “never do anything that’s irreversible” we should be interpeting it as “balance the known risks against the known benefits, with irreversibility being just one of the weights in “known risks”.

    The former makes innovation impossible, for all innovations are irreversible. But I realise that for some agricualtural Utopians this is a feature rather than a bug.

  13. I’m quite happy to eat GM foods. However, it seems reasonable that some consumers won’t want to. Hence there should be a substantial market for non-GM crops (which can be voluntarily labelled as such).

    My concern is for the farmers trying to grown non-GM crops. Can they sue neighbouring GM farmers if cross-pollination destroys their livelihood? If not, why not?

  14. The precautionary principle is that ‘lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse not to protect against causing irreversible environmental harm’. So while the PP does NOT say ‘don’t do it unless its proven to do no harm,’ it DOES say ‘don’t do it if there is a risk that irreversible harm may occur’

    So yes, you have to reasonably rule out irreversible harm in EVERY case of Genetic Modification (which, by the way, is different to hybridisation and selective breeding, which you refer to with your ‘einkorn wheat and primitive barleys’.) Just because putting a fish gene in corn turns out to be ok, doesn’t mean that a peanut gene in wheat will be. Test everything stringently, ensure that it does agricultural and general economic good rather than greater profit alone, then I’ll consider eating it.

  15. JQ wrote “Second, there’s the possibility of cross-contamination of non-GM crops by GM neighbours, which would remove the option, for producers and consumers, of avoiding GM. It appears that the systems in place to prevent this, while not infallible, are pretty good.�

    JQ, as a practicing plant breeder and population geneticist, I think this is an overestimation of the ability to control gene movement from GM crops to non-GM crops. That’s why there is an ongoing push to increase the level of GM contamination allowed in non-GM products. It is extremely difficult to prevent GM contamination of non-GM crops, and to allow GM crops is an almost certain end to “organicâ€? foods from those plant species involved. While I don’t particularly take sides in this argument we do need to realise that we can’t have GM crops and organic crops within many kilometres of each other, and we have to decide on any need for compensation for loss of existing markets.

    I agree with the earlier comments that we should have a food labelling process, if that’s what consumers want, as a moral issue alone. But, I think that food labelling is a much wider issue than just relating it to GM produce. We already do meat tracking for the Japanese market for general food safety reasons. We already have much food labelling to satisfy consumer desires about product origins and health options. GM/non-GM labelling is just one more in a whole list of properties that should be on the label. The consumer pays for “organic� labelling and “made in Australia� labelling, so I presume they will also pay for “GM� labelling.

    If you add the risks of loss of diversity from contaminating the natural gene pools and from reduced numbers of commercial breeding lines because each line that is genetically modified costs a small fortune, then I think we should still be taking slow and cautious steps into the GM world.

  16. Actually, Anna K, there are several variants of the PP, from weak to strong. The formulation that you mentioned – “don’t do it if there is a risk that irreversible harm may occur” – is a stronger version, and if followed would result in many welfare-enhancing innovations not proceeding. More sensible formulations of the PP recognise that while irreversible effects deserve extra weight, they do not deserve infinite weight.

  17. Sure, the risks are manageable – for some. It takes a lot of financially little people to put in a few dollars each to launch a legal challenge to a big multinational.

  18. John I’ve tended to align with the anti-GM view, but I’ve found your arguments convincing. I suppose another comparison is with the effects of mobile phones. There is a possible radiation issue but the population seems to consider the benefits outweigh the risks.

    The one outstanding concern I have with GM is what happens if a problem is discovered years down the track? I would like to see possible penalties/compensation be very harsh – e.g. dissolution of the company responsible.

    I should add I would hope this would never be required.

    However, I feel this would send the correct signals to the stock market and employees to ensure the companies are properly and fully focusing on the safety of GM products. There would be favourable consideration given to companies who notify early of possible harmful consequences.

    Great Piece!

  19. JQ wrote “Second, there’s the possibility of cross-contamination of non-GM crops by GM neighbours, which would remove the option, for producers and consumers, of avoiding GM. It appears that the systems in place to prevent this, while not infallible, are pretty good.�

    ============
    Exactly what systems are in place? And dont you think that the very need for such Quaranting shouldnt set off alarm bells? Why is JQ peddling GM at all…This puts him in the same class as Monsanto. He cant be doing it because it wil feed the poor…The state labor(???) govts excuse is money! Its a cash crop.

  20. It’s somewhat ironic we should be talking about GM canola when canola itself is a very hybridised cultivar of rapeseed. That and the fact that ‘rape’ in rapeseed might offend some consumer sensibilities made the new name ‘Canola’ a logical choice for the Canadian Oilseed Association or some such where it all started. Let’s trust the Canadians don’t get stroppy like French winemakers and the labelling pedants aren’t even more confused with Rapeola, Ozola, Monsantola or Methoda la Canola and the like on their supermarket shelves real soon.

    The problem of long term safety of GM aside, there is clearly a problem of externalities with GM crops. That’s why Japanese buyers recently agreed to buy all of SA’s Kangaroo Island’s GM free Canola crop at a hefty premium recently. http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/2007/s2077259.htm
    Clearly these sorts of premia are threatened by the relaxation of GM crop bans and it will be difficult to ask for compensation if the inevitable happens. Like legal asbestos and tobacco,(and now add fossil fuels) there should be no comeback on private individuals or corporate entities for legally engaging in the trade of any communally accepted product. Until such time as we as a community ban a product or behaviour, it should be perfectly legal to continue to trade. It’s our call via our govts and if we get it wrong it’s down to us to wear it communally.

  21. “Why is JQ peddling GM at all…This puts him in the same class as Monsanto.”

    Err, excuse me brian, but would you like to explain your stance on stem cell research, IVF and even unnatural intervention like abortion, or are you just another cherrypicking, naturalist green when it suits you? The people who do these things get paid to do them too it may surprise you to know and many even work for companies who…gulp…make profits.

  22. JQ pushing GM, but as hes an Economist he depends like the rest of us on qualified expertise. His experts , his ‘scientific consensus’ seems to think GM is safe to eat….But it takes only one nay case to bring those experts into doubt:

    Female rats whose diets were supplemented with genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soybeans gave birth to many severely stunted pups, with over half of the litter dead by three weeks, and the surviving pups were sterile [1] ( GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile , SiS 33 ). This is the first time that anyone has investigated the effects of GM feed on reproductive function, foetal and neonatal development, in an experiment lasting more than 90 days, a period set by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) [2], and the GM soya has been commercialised worldwide for food and feed since 1996.

    Like a long string of scientists who have tried to tell the public what they have found, Dr. Irina Ermakova, senior scientist of the Russian Academy of Sciences who heads the investigation, has had her funding cut, and is now strongly discouraged from continuing with the research. She is pleading for other scientists to repeat her experiment to see if they can replicate her results.

    Ermakova’s findings are not an isolated case. They top a growing stack of evidence accumulated from all over the world, indicating that GM food and feed may be inherently hazardous to health (see Box 1). GM crops are also proving disastrous for agriculture [3, 4] ( Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds, Allergens… , Scientists Confirm Failures of Bt-Crops , SiS 28), which is all the more reason they should be banned.

    Box 1
    Accumulating evidence on the health hazards of GM food and feed

    1. Between 2005 and 2006, scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences reported that female rats fed glyphosate-tolerant GM soybeans produced excessive numbers of severely stunted pups and more than half of the litter dying within three weeks, while the surviving pups are completely sterile (see main article).

    2. Between 2004 and 2005, hundreds of farm workers and cotton handlers in Madhya Pradesh, India, suffered allergy symptoms from exposure to Bt cotton [5] ( More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops , SiS 30).

    3. Between 2005 and 2006, thousands of sheep died after grazing on Bt cotton crop residues in four villages in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh in India [6] ( Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton , SiS 30).

    4. In 2005, scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra Australia tested a transgenic pea containing a normally harmless protein in bean (alpha-amylase inhibitor 1), and found it caused inflammation in the lungs of mice and provoked sensitivities to other proteins in the diet [7] ( Transgenic Pea that Made Mice Ill , SiS 29)

    5. From 2002 to 2005, scientists at the Universities of Urbino, Perugia and Pavia in Italy published reports indicating that GM-soya fed to young mice affected cells in the pancreas, liver and testes [8] ( GM Ban Long Overdue , SiS 29)

    6. In 2003, villagers in the south of the Philippines suffered mysterious illnesses when a Monsanto Bt maize hybrid came into flower; antibodies to the Bt protein were found in the villagers, there have been at least five unexplained deaths and some remain ill to this day [8]

    7. In 2004, Monsanto’s secret research dossier showed that rats fed MON863 GM maize developed serious kidney and blood abnormalities [9] (see main text).

    8. Between 2001 and 2002, a dozen cows died in Hesse Germany after eating Syngenta GM maize Bt176, and more in the herd had to be slaughtered from mysterious illnesses [10] ( Cows Ate GM Maize & Died , SiS 21)

    9. In 1998, Dr . Arpad Pusztai and colleagues formerly of the Rowett Institute in Scotland reported damage in every organ system of young rats fed GM potatoes containing snowdrop lectin, including a stomach lining twice as thick as controls [11]

    10. Also in 1998, scientists in Egypt found similar effects in the gut of mice fed Bt potato [12]
    11. The US Food and Drug Administration had data dating back to early 1990s showing that rats fed GM tomatoes with antisense gene to delay ripening had developed small holes in their stomach [11]

    12. In 2002, Aventis company (later Bayer
    Cropscience) submitted data to UK regulators showing that chickens fed glufosinate-tolerant GM maize Chardon LL were twice as likely to die compared with controls [13] ( Animals Avoid GM Food, for Good Reasons , SiS 21 ).

    Etc
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMFoodNightmareUnfolding.php

    IS JQ or any of you aware of these cases? Mae Wan Ho of Isis.org.uk is a qualified geneticist, and he views on GM are very different to JQ ‘scientific consensus’….

  23. On Ansilomar, JQ writes:
    ‘beginning with the Asilomar conference in 1975, which may be seen as the first application of the precautionary principle. Given the experience of the past thirty years, and the scientific understanding that has developed over that time, it seems pretty clear that any risks associated with GM are modest and manageable, not the potential catastrophes that worried the participants at Asilomar. ‘

    But a bit of internet surfing turns up the following:

    ‘There is a curious tension in accounts of the Asilomar conference. The conference has been lauded as an exceptional event in which scientists voluntarily sacrificed immediate progress in their research in order to ensure that the field would develop safely. At the same time, many, perhaps most, of the participants resisted questions raised about the implications of their work and simply wanted to proceed. Self-interest, not altruism, was most evident at Asilomar.

    Eyewitness accounts (and the conference tapes) make it clear that all moves to address the social problems posed by this field in advance of its development were firmly suppressed.

    The tension disappears, however, if we understand Asilomar as an effort to justify a form of technology that is likely to be socially disruptive. In essence, Asilomar was about fashioning a set of beliefs for the American people and their representatives in Congress that would allow scientists to pursue genetic engineering under a system of self-governance. Equally important, it was about persuading the scientists to accept the degree of self-sacrifice that was needed for such a strategy to be effective.

    1 The Politics of Asilomar

    The decisions that led up to the Asilomar meeting were made exclusively within the scientific community.

    ‘Meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April 1974, the Berg committee produced three main recommendations: first, a pause in some experiments; second, the Asilomar conference; and finally, in a move whose political significance was largely missed at the time, a proposal to the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish an advisory committee to explore the hazards of the new field, develop procedures for minimizing them, and draft guidelines for research. All these recommendations were acted upon.

    By the time participants gathered at Asilomar, the NIH committee (composed almost exclusively of people with actual or potential INTERESTS in genetic engineering) had been appointed, defined as a “technical committee,” and charged with investigating the hazards and, on that basis, developing guidelines for NIH grantees. The committee held its first meeting the day after the conference ended.(2)

    http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3111

    So we see, that Asilomar was not about public participation or social concern. Look at what the author says about the NIH committee…..and who is on it. Genetic engineers would be just as likely as any monsanto exec to turn a blind eye to hazards that might endanger their private scientific fiefdoms.

    Id recomment people to read the whole of Susan Wrights article…you can be sure JQ hasnt read it or has and, like any scientific consensus, chooses to ignore it.

  24. Lets continue with JQ article:

    ‘The problem for this argument is that rigorous scientific assessment hasn’t found any convincing evidence of serious risks’

    This is a carefully worded claim. Key words are ‘rigorous’ ‘scientific’ ‘convincing’. The last word esp as JQ doesnt define what he means by ‘convincing’. He implies there is contrary evidence to the ‘scientific consensus view that GM technology is safe. But that its been examined and found to be of little concern.

    I disagree. My post above, number 23, finds plenty of hazards that i find convincing. The Genetic engineers of Asilomar might not…but they’d be wrong.

    The list is not complete: there are some other cases of GM technology creating hazardous substances.

    1. Human Insulin:
    Its not well known that insulin is now genetically engineered, or that it has some interesting properties:

    ‘Report highlighted coma dangers to 15,000 sufferers who were switched to genetically-engineered human substitute:
    Evidence that thousands of diabetics in Britain may have suffered a deterioration in their health from genetically-engineered insulin has been withheld by the British Diabetics Association, whose role is to advise patients and to protect their interests.
    The evidence was contained in a report, commissioned by the association and completed in 1993, which highlighted dangers faced by about 10 per cent of the 150,000 diabetics who had been switched from the traditional animal-derived insulin to genetically-engineered human insulin.

    Some adversely affected began, without warning, to go into comas, known as hypoglycaemic episodes or ,hypos”. Same suffered severe injuries, a few crashed their cars, and others believed they would have died had they not been rescued as they lay unconscious. An estimated 15,000 people may still suffer because they are injecting themselves twice a day with insulin that may not suit them.

    Many doctors are unaware of the problem, or have failed to put their patients back on animal insulin because they do not know it is still available. The association says it did not publish the report because it was ,,too alarmist”. Simon O’Neill, head of diabetes care services, said the association agreed that up to 20 % of insulin injectors preferred animal insulin and had experienced difficulties with genetically-engineered insulin. He added that the association had published a report, The Insulin Debate, which kept members informed of developments, and campaigned to keep animal insulin available to sufferers.

    Genetically-engineered insulin is manufactured by the drug companies, the Danish Novo Nordisk and Elli Lilly. Neither accepts that the genetically-engineered version has negative effects.

    The report was compiled following 3,000 letters of complaint over two years about the new insulin from association members. The letters told how lives had deteriorated after being switched to genetically-engineered human insulin. Eight out of 10 of a sample of the complainants examined by independent researchers said they could no longer control their symptoms and had lost warning signs of impending comas. The main conclusions from the letters were:

    Half the patients had no warning of passing out with hypos once on the new drug.
    A quarter said such episodes were more frequent, and one in five said they were more severe.
    Thirteen per cent said they became unconscious at night and 5 per cent suffered convulsions.
    Ten per cent had memory loss and another 9 percent were unable to concentrate.
    etc
    http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Diabetics-Not-Told.htm

    Has the ‘scientific consensus’ considered this evidence?
    ============================================

    Then theres TNG14112…an immunomodulatory drug, that was tried on human volunteers, with disastrous results:

    ‘In its first human clinical trials, in March 2006, it caused catastrophic systemic failure in the subjects, despite being administered at a supposed sub-clinical dose of 0.1 mg per kg, some 500 times lower than the dose found safe in animals,[3] resulting in the hospitalization of six volunteers on 13 March 2006. At least four of these suffered multiple organ dysfunction, and one trial volunteer is said to be showing signs of developing cancer. The developing company, TeGenero Immuno Therapeutics, entered into insolvency proceedings later in 2006. Tentative opinions from an as-yet uncompleted inquiry suggest that the problems arose due to “unforeseen biological action in humans”, rather than breach of trial protocols, and the case therefore has had important ramifications for future trials of potentially powerful clinical agents.
    etc
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TGN1412

    That phrase: ‘unforeseen biological action in humans’ is why GM is so dangerous, ad why it should be shelved. Because the ‘scientific consenses’ cant forsee everything, and is just as likely to turna blind eye as it has with GM human insulin.

    So JQ is dead wrong when he says:
    ‘The policy decision reflects a pretty clear scientific consensus that the products in question are safe to consume’

    No they are not.

  25. I’m well aware of a number of these reports, Brian. I’m also aware of similar evidence on most of the issues where I choose to follow the overwhelming weight of evidence and scientific opinion, rather than that selected by advocates for the minority view – for example, climate change (real), risks of passive smoking (serious), risks of mobile phones (not serious enough to worry me).

  26. JQ writes:
    ‘As with all kinds of products of the modern world, from pesticides to electromagnetic waves, it’s probably impossible for anyone to avoid GM food completely. But most people averse to consuming GM foods (for whatever reason) will be satisfied with 99 per cent, and those who aren’t can’t expect to impose their preferences on the rest of us.’

    Yes, the products of the ‘modern world’ aka ‘industrialised scientific world’ ARE notoriously hazardous. As with GM, the hazards are either ignored (as with EM eg cell phones) or suppressed. because the convenience or benefits are said to outweigh the ‘risks’. Altho a person whose cell phone has given him/her brain cancer may argue that ‘risk’ is a very light weight word.
    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/doctor_sues.html

    the problem with GM is you cant keep it from spreading…How do you plan to keep the pollen from GM plants confined, JQ? Under a glass case?

  27. JQ again: ‘On the other side is the position, that, in the absence of proof of harm, there should be no requirement for labelling. This view was pushed successfully by Monsanto in the US, but the end result was to increase public distrust and slow the acceptance of the process. ‘

    But as weve seen there is plenty of evidence for harm! So how did Monsanto manage to push its case successfully? JQ doesnt say.. but that IS the US,and the US has a fixation on technology. As with VIOXX and SSRIS,adverse events are ignored, until the public experiences them.

    So, JQ why havent you heard of any of the cases of ‘harm’ that ive put forward?

    The public is wise to distrust Monsanto and its ilk, but also to be suspicious of phrases like ‘scientific consensus’.

  28. ‘I’m well aware of a number of these reports, Brian. I’m also aware of similar evidence on most of the issues where I choose to follow the overwhelming weight of evidence and scientific opinion, rather than that selected by advocates for the minority view – for example, climate change (real), risks of passive smoking (serious), risks of mobile phones (not serious enough to worry me).’

    JQ, youre ‘aware’ and choose to ignore.Thats your perogerative. But to push the same hazarous materials onto the public…

    Minority view? Cast your mind back to Ignatz Semmelweiss….he had the minority view that physicians who didnt wash their hands after dissecting corpses could give women in labour puerperal fever. Who would say now that he was wrong?

    Youve not shown us any of this ‘overwhelming weight of evidence’.

    As with drugs like VIOXX and SSRIS the public is being expected is the guinea pig for GM. Your alluding to the Precautionary Principle is ironic, since, you really choose to downplay it.

  29. Finally, your post shows an absence of harm with GM…but then you chose not to mention any. Thats the way your ‘scientific consensus’ seems to operate….See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

  30. I’d request you to take a break with the final observation above, Brian. You’re monopolising the thread.

  31. The decisions of the Victorian and NSW state governments were based on a report of the Chief Scientist (which I have not read). Bearing that in mind, I’m inclined to go with JQ’s assertion on the scientific consensus with regard to safety.

    However, we shouldn’t make decisions with social and economic consequences based on scientific evaluations alone. My presumption is that the Chief Scientist’s report was only written because of pressure on governments from certain quarters to introduce GM products. It seems that it focuses only on safety and not on the possible social consequences which, after all, are not really within the purview of scientists.

    This is about what kind of society we want to live in and whether people have the freedom to choose alternatives. For that reason, labelling seems to be crucially important. But it’s a measure of the two state governments’ willingness to kowtow to big business that they’ve relied solely on the scientists and not at all on the social scientists.

    I’m really only tossing this in as a provocation, but the Americans are the only people who’ve been eating GM foods for decades (usually without knowing it), yet they’re getting shorter relative to the non-GM Europeans. Maybe this has nothing to do with the nutrient/water content, but it could have something to do with the social consequences of just going along with corporate control over food production.

  32. There is a qualitative difference between GM and evolution. Evolution involves the interaction between selection – even guided – and much slower spontaneous mutation. The result is much better behaved transitions than we can expect from GM, since both processes occur on a similar timescale there. Result: keep going until you get it wrong. The nearest natural experiment we have is introducing plants or animals from other ecosystems. And it is certainly worrying that there is so much pressure to avoid, say, buffer zones.

    Oh, and on points of principle, it is intellectually dishonest to assert that compromise is good enough; that’s an argument that is appropriate for political processes, but to transfer it to the plane of theory is poor argument.

  33. I am not confident about the safety of GM food at this point. The 7:30 report tonight certainly provided some reason for a thoughtful pause on the issue. The GM issue is rather different from the Global Warming issue in terms of vested interests versus disinterested science. The pro-GM argument is being promoted by those with a vested interest in it. The GW warning was put out by disinterested scientists who were opposed by the vested interests.

    GM science is not a precise science yet by any means. The gene splicing process at this stage would be better described as a scatter-gun approach. Much collateral damage and many unintended changes are being created in the genetic make-up of the target species.

    The fact that the CSIRO hastily cancelled their own GM pea project at a late stage indicates they had some very concerning test results at a late stage. This could indicate anything from good testing vigilance that caught a specific problem with a specific project to generic flaws which might afflict the whole GM process.

    The bottom line is that caution is still indicated and there is no need for Australia to rush into GM Canola or GM anything. We still have assured markets in Japan, China and the EU where GM products are banned or severely restricted and still subject to significant(and one might say reasonable) public suspicion.

  34. While there is no system to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops by GM crops, people who would prefer not to eat GM foods are having their abilty to make that choice undermined completely. Once there is cross-contamination, there is no way to ensure that in the future anybody will be able to avoid GM varieties at all, let alone with “99%” surety!

    It seems that we have, on one hand, people who don’t care whether or not they eat GM food, and on the other, people who are vehemently opposed to eating it. The thing is that people who don’t care are not actually exercising a choice, but rather a lack thereof. Why should one person’s apathy be put before another person’s active choice? Or maybe we should ask; why is the complacency of the un/mis-informed consumer masses allowed to override the deep concern of the assertive few? I think we all know the an$wer to that.

    As a response to question above, many people who at first claim to be be apathetic about eating GM food suddenly become champions of the developing world. They claim that they would actually choose *to* eat GM foods in order to increase their economic and agricultural viability and increase food production, thereby alleviating third world food shortages. For these people I have the following quiz;

    1.[Short answer. 5 pts.] How will the broad patents which companies that develop GM seeds desire on their inventions protect the rights and nutrition of starving africans?

    2. [Please finish the following sentence. 1 pt only as this should be very easy for Keynesian economics students or anybody who has ever paid for petrol] Grain will be cheaper if…
    A) four American companies own a handful of varieties left in the world, or
    B) thousands of varieties from all over the world are owned by all the people of the world.

  35. Saw the ABC 7.30 Report on the issues last night. I have only one unscientific comment and one political comment:

    1) I become very nervous when old blokes in suits smoothly assure us its all OK and intelligent women are saying no it isn’t.

    2) Safe GM is a delusion, and I am a contrarian on this matter. Millions of years of Darwinian natural selection would argue an unexpected outcome from this process. This not to argue against gene technology per se, but when major agri-businesses drive the process, caveat emptor.

  36. yes, the 7.30 report was quit good…it also undermines JQs nonsense that there is a scientific consensus as to GM safety etc. SO why is JQ so keen to back GM? Has he invested in biotechnology?

  37. I’m deleting long and general attacks on GM. If you want to discuss the post with other commenters feel free. Otherwise, give a couple of links to useful anti-GM sites and leave it at that. – JQ

  38. Re #37 I have to take back at least some of my post. This kind of thing (assumption that mainstream science is driven by financial self-interest) is par for the course among global warming delusionists, defenders of smoking and so on, and obviously nothing is different here.

    On a more general point, I share a lot of concerns expressed here about plant variety rights and related issues. Again, the role of Monsanto and similar companies in this has been pernicious. Like Chris at #9, I’d be much happier with open source GM.

  39. We owe brian a debt of gratitude for picking up this ball and running with it so effectively. A couple of further points:

    First, you don’t have to go to Russia to find a scientist who has been muzzled for opposing GM – remember Dr M. Stapper (now ex-CSIRO).

    Second, on the commercial (I won’t say economic, because that would be mistaken) benefits of GM canola, the following quote: “Canada lost its EU canola market to Australia in 1999 — a market we still supply, at premium prices. Australia is set for a record crop of GM-free canola this season, so risking our competitive advantage makes no sense at all”.

    Third, the majority scientific opinion might not be reflected by a report nominally authored by an immunologist (Nossal), a member of the Southern Regional Panel for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and former Chair of the Victorian Farmers Federation Education Committee (Curnow) and a farmer who has been on the Victorian Catchment Management Council (Forster). Only one of these people has any scientific background so far as I can gather. Not exactly the IPCC, is it?

    Finally, it must be the spirit of Christmas at work to put Prof. Quiggin and Jennifer Marohasy on the same side.

  40. One point that needs to be made about IP rights in plant breeding is that plant breeders’ rights are granted on non-GM plants as well.

    Furthermore, this is how some of the mutations used by “naturally” bred crops are obtained. I fail to see why GM is inherently any more dangerous than aiming a genetic blunderbuss at some seeds and sorting through the results.

  41. JQ:’I’m deleting long and general attacks on GM.’

    Now we know why JQ knows so little about GM, safety and ‘scientific consensus mentality’
    Id call that censorship, JQ..you may recall Dr Stapper was similarly censored when he was sacked by industry friendly CSIRO.

    Thanks for illustrating a truism.

  42. ‘I fail to see why GM is inherently any more dangerous than aiming a genetic blunderbuss at some seeds and sorting through the results.’

    naturally GM friendly JQ is fascinated…under GM farmers cant save seeds…they need to buy them from the likes of Monsanto,who hold th GM patents.

    GM crosses things that do cross i nature..like fish and tomatoes.
    You cant have read my posts RM, but the JQ has been deleting them!

  43. ‘So much so that the issue is framed not as ‘industry interest versus public interest,’ but as ‘Science versus Luddites.’ ‘

    this is how JQ thinks…or rather the trend of his conditioning.

  44. JQ: ‘gain, the role of Monsanto and similar companies in this has been pernicious. Like Chris at #9, I’d be much happier with open source GM.’

    You wont, because GM is driven by corporate greed…not the public interest! Duh!

  45. what cheek!:

    ‘He rolled the dice again. This time, he was mimicking what he and his colleagues have been doing quietly around the globe for more than a half-century — using radiation to scramble the genetic material in crops, a process that has produced valuable mutants like red grapefruit, disease-resistant cocoa and premium barley for Scotch whiskey.

    “I’m doing the same thing,� he said, still toying with the dice. “I’m not doing anything different from what nature does. I’m not using anything that was not in the genetic material itself.�

    Dr. Lagoda, the head of plant breeding and genetics at the International Atomic Energy Agency, prides himself on being a good salesman. It can be a tough act, however, given wide public fears about the dangers of radiation and the risks of genetically manipulated food. His work combines both fields but has nonetheless managed to thrive.’

    =========================

    Now isnt it sus that the fellow making this sort of claim works for the IAE!!!

    Think people…think… his use of the word ‘radiation’ refers to nukes….
    Scrambling the genetic material, sounds very very dangerous.

  46. ‘Radiation breeding is widely used in the developing world, thanks largely to the atomic agency’s efforts. Beneficiaries have included Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Vietnam.’
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/the-search-for-useful-mutants/2007/10/10/1191695990493.html

    Altruism? or pushing nukes…

    Of course, Lagoda doesnt tell you what happens to the nuclear waste…heres a hint:

    ‘Nuclear Weapons
    Depleted uranium (DU) is the U-238 waste product that has been “depletedâ€? of U-235. DU has been used to make armor piercing bullets, tank shielding and more. When used in warfare, DU bursts into flames upon impact, spreading uranium dust into the environment. DU is radioactive for billions of years and hundreds of tons of it have contaminated Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and testing locations like Vieques, Puerto Rico. It’s the primary culprit in Gulf War Syndrome and many other health problems.’
    http://www.energyjustice.net/nuclear/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s